Section: Features

Pupil to Professor: conscription kept Locke in class

Pupil to Professor: conscription kept Locke in class

By Julie France

Most people have strong friendships from college, but I was just too weird. Too weird for Oberlin sounds really weird, … but Im not in touch with anyone from my undergraduate days, Benjamin Locke, Robert A. Oden. Jr. professor of music, said.

I wasnt a druggie and I know that drugs were pretty prevalent. It was hard to build close friendships when so much of it was the drug culture. I didnt go into the rooms where people put towels under the door and smoke the marijuana and it was pretty prevalent. In most of the dorms, there wasnt a night where you didnt smell marijuana, Locke said.

Locke grew up in Toledo, Ohio and decided to go to Oberlin College in 1968 for his undergraduate degree.

It was an Oberlin graduate that heard me singing in a community group in Toledo who said that I should look at that school. So, basically, I did. I didnt even visit the campus; I applied kind of cold. So, for whatever reason, they did accept me, Locke said.

Starting off in the College of Arts and Sciences as an art major, Locke thought he would dabble in Oberlins prestigious Conservatory of Music.

I auditioned for their top choir in my first year and was fortunate enough to be accepted. It helped that I was the tenor, Locke said.

I thought … I wouldnt be good enough to be in the Conservatory, … then I realized, Hey, I can do just as well as these other voice majors. So, I switched into the Conservatory and became a music education major, Locke said.

As a member of Oberlins top choir, Locke worked with world-renowned choral conductor Robert Fountain, whose photo Locke displays in his office.

He is, in my opinion, the worlds best choir director, and that imprinted me quite heavily and so, going to Oberlin, you have to say I majored in choir, Locke said. For all those other shifts, choir was the main thing.

Second only to choirs importance in Lockes undergraduate years was Fountain.

Singing with Robert Fountain, I loved it. I think if I could have I would have sung for him for years. In fact, I did; I went to graduate school later and worked with him again, Locke said, speaking of his graduate experience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Locke spent four years at Oberlin, from 1968 to 1972, but he did not receive his undergraduate degree.

Locke changed his major from music education to voice during his senior year in order to continue his education and avoid the Vietnam War, given his low draft number of four.

Locke left Oberlin without a diploma and spent two years working at the Toledo Public Library.

It was a tumultuous time, Locke said. The 70s were very difficult, had lots of upheavals and rejection of institutional ideas. I have to say, I was sort of caught up in that idea of, Why do I have to be certified as a human being? Except, people couldnt hire me if I didnt have that degree.

Realizing this problem, Locke entered Mary Manse College in Toledo and finished his degree one year later in 1975.

The professor knew that I had transferred from Oberlin, so their expectations of me were quite high. Like it or not, that was the truth and it was sort of this expectation. Actually, because of that, I worked harder at that school than I did at Oberlin, Locke said.

Mary Manse College is no longer around. It had closed its doors a month after I graduated, Locke said. So I have no alumni dues.

[starbox id=”juliefrance”]


Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at